The Wood-Fired Blog

Yeast is Free (well, almost)

Every year or so it time to buy yeast again. At least that’s how it feels. I really did run out of Dry Active Yeast the other day, and luckily had already scheduled a trip to Costco for vegetables, so I could stock up.

What really struck we was how inexpensive yeast can be — if you buy in bulk. I don’t remember the exact cost, but 2 lbs. were only a few dollars. A little bit of mental math yields the following:

2 lbs = 908 grams / 2.5 grams per loaf = 363 loaves per bag. So if the yeast was $3.60, that means it costs $.01 per loaf. Not bad.

One quick side note. We get a reasonable amount of email asking if it really is OK to just add your dry yeast straight to your flour, without proofing it first, and without adding any type of sweetener to help it become active — as all of our recipes recommend. And the answer is a big YES!


Got Wood?

You might be wondering how much wood a wood-fired oven really burns and how efficient a modern pizza oven is with fuel. So today I made a test, and the outcome was really very good. The following photos show just how little wood my Prest prototype oven needs to reach pizza baking temperature and hold enough heat to bake a load of bread.

To get right to it, and the answer is 2 1/2 pieces of wood — though I am sure you could easily do it with just 2 pieces. In the photo above, you can see the three pieces of standard firewood that I picked. In the photo below, you can see those three pieces of wood split into small pieces that work nicely in a pizza oven.

Then, I stacked the wood with a nice top down fire layout — holding a couple of the larger pieces back to add after the initial fire burned down.

And finally, here is the wood that was left over. The oven quickly reached 800F+ as it burned all of the wood, and it took over 90 minutes for the oven to fall into the 500F’s after I racked out the coals. Plus, it took another couple of hours for the oven to fall from the 500F’s to the 300F’s — which is a great deal of usable heat from just a couple of pieces of wood.

One quick final note. Why is my oven so efficient? Like all of the Forno Bravo ovens, the Presto is very well-insulated. It uses 100% ceramic insulation to provide extremely efficient baking. The heat stays in the oven — it doesn’t leak out through the enclosure walls or stand. My oven also uses high-quailty materials in the dome and floor (I have blogged about this before). So if you have ever baked in an old-fashioned pizza oven or brick oven, I think you will be really surprised by how little wood the Forno Bravo ovens use and how well they retain heat.

Pizza Making Should be Simple

This photo of Del Popolo Pizza a new wood-fired Food Truck in San Francisco from The Bend Bulletin really struck a cord with me. While the company has been getting a lot of attention in the press for, among other things, the sheer size of the food truck itself (it is based on a 14 ton, 20-foot shipping container that holds the pizza oven), what I like about this photo is how it captures the true nature of great pizza — and how simple it should be.

Photo by Nick Czap / The New York Times

Great dough, great tomatoes and cheese; a hot wood-fired oven; and of course some nice skill and techniques. Look at how uncluttered and calm this scene is.

Wood-Fired Ciabatta

I changed gears baking today — from France to Italy and from baguettes to Ciabatta. And I had a ball. Working with a classic Italian bread brought back some happy memories, and the bread was really nice. Very nice. The techniques that I have been developing making other types of bread really spilled over into today’s baking.

There are lots of little things to say. First, my dough was 82% hydration, using Trader Joe’s general purpose white flour. As you might guess, at that high hydration, my dough was really just a batter to start, so I mixed it a little longer and a little faster to develop the gluten as much as possible, and it really just held together. You would see the strands develop, as the dough started pulling away from the sides of the mixer as the dough developed. That was very instructive for me. Overall, I mixed the dough for 12 minutes on KitchenAid 5. That’s pretty fast, through I don’t think it was enough to heat up the dough or break down the flour.

As you have probably heard, Ciabatta is a relatively recent invention (I should look it up, but there is a bakery in Northern Italy who lays claim to creating the loaf), and the word ciabatta means slipped in Italian. Personally, I think they should call it Dog Bone, after the shape of the loaf; but I have to admit that dog bone probably doesn’t sound as nice. So much for my marketing skills.

Another interesting aspect of the Ciabatta is that the dough is so highly hydrated that the loaf does not hold any type of shape and scoring is impossible. It’s really just a puddle of dough.

Here is my formula.

500 grams GP flour
410 grams of water
5 grams of yeast
10 grams of salt

12 minute knead, 10 folds (yep, 10), bulk fermentation, 6 folds, second fermentation, push down and cut in two, shape, let rest for an hour and bake. Other than working with really wet dough, there is not a lot of technique.

And remember. Wet your surface and your hands before working with the dough. Don’t use flour (until you are ready to shape your loaves and load them on your pizza peel), or you will work too much flour into your dough and alter the formula.

Shaping the loaf is an interesting activity. I have read that you can either fold the dough and then pull the ends, or that you can take the rested dough pull the ends right away. So I tried both, and I found that the the loaf that I folded (a letter fold into thirds) was harder to work with, and it puffed right up in the oven. As you will see a little later. So at this point, I think the simple method without the final folds worked better.

My pizza oven was perfect. After burning three nice pieces of firewood split into 1-3″ chunks and enjoying a blazing fire, I gave the oven ample time to cool down into the mid-low 500F’s. I also swabbed the deck with a damp towel. It’s amazing how much heat a small pizza oven can retain from just three pieces of wood. I also used my garden spray to create steam in my oven right after I loaded the loaves, and then again after five minutes.

Immediately after loading my bread, I could see that the loaf that I had folded prior to shaping (obviously on the right) puffed right up.

The entire family loved this bread. The crust was crunchy, but with a nice fresh, almost elastic feel and the crumb was moist and well developed, and the holes were great. The flavor was wonderful (though I could have developed the flavors even more with a longer, cooler fermentation). It was a little breath of Italy on a spring/summer evening. I am doing this again.


My New (and very nice) Bread Peel

I have been struggling to find a good way to load multiple baguettes into my pizza oven off and on for years. With my recent round of bread baking, my struggles have come to a head. I’ve tried the back of baking pans, short wood pizza peels designed for (that’s right) pizza, standard metal pizza placing peels, my new baguette flipping board and a homemade attempt to making a true baguette bread peel (or bread boat). I tried loading my baguettes by sliding them down the front of the peel and across the side of the peel. Nothing worked.

My baguettes were often twisted or serpentine, like snakes — even after I tried to straighten them in the oven while they were still soft.

Then, I decided to get serious and I contacted the good people at Lillsun, the leading US manufacturer of wood bread and pizza boards and peels. Forno Bravo has sold a number of their products through the Forno Bravo Store for years. And they send me a 14″ wide x 30″ long bread peel with a 6″ handle and a bevelled front edge. To get right to it, it’s perfect. I ordered the 14″ wide peel hoping that it would fit nicely through the opening of my small Presto wood-fired oven and reach to back without having to put my hand inside the oven, and most importantly that I could slide my baguettes into the oven without messing up.

And I can happily say that it worked just as I planned the first time. This is great.

Todays’ bread (as always) had its flaws. The oven was too hot and it wasn’t cooling down as quickly as I had planned, so I had to wait longer that I had intended before loading my bread — so my loaves were over proofed and starting to lose their elasticity. But on the up side, my scoring technique is improving. I seemed to hit the mark overlapping my slashes by about 1/3, and I am getting my scoring deeper into my loaves. So you win a few and you lose a few. Such is wood-fired bread.

These loaves are 72% hydration and use Central Milling Tipo 00 pizza flour. The flour and dough were really nice. That said, I started the dough in the morning and baked it around 5PM, so I didn’t have time for any complicated techniques. 10 minutes knead on low (KitchenAid 2), six folds, bulk fermentation, six molds, second fermentation, cut in half, shape baguette balls, rest for an hour, shape baguettes, rest for over an hour (ooops), score and bake. I successfully used by baguette flipping board, moving my loaves from the linen to the baguette peel.

I used a garden sprayer to steam the oven twice in the first five minutes. More to come on steam later.

Overall, I am OK with my bread, and really happy with my new baguette peel. Onward and upward.

More Whole Wheat Oatmeal

I’m starting to get my hands around the weights and characteristics of whole wheat oatmeal bread. If you remember back to a couple of earlier attempts, I basically mixed 1 cup of old fashioned oats with 2 cups of boiling water and a pinch of salt, and added it to a 60% hydrated, 1kg whole wheat bread formula. Not very scientific, and not very accurate.

So today, I weighed the oats and the water; and come up with the following formula and 70% hydration, including the oats as the part of the flour for the baker’s percentage. Thinking about that as I write it, I’m not sure if that is the right method, but it worked for today. Another way of thinking about this is to not count the oats, and if that were the case, then the formula is 76.8% hydration.

Here are the numbers for the formula:

850 grams whole wheat flour
150 grams general purpose white flour
40 grams of honey
30 grams of olive oil
20 grams of molasses
20 grams of salt
10 grams of yeast
568 grams water

Mix and let stand.

90 grams of old fashioned oats (1 cup)
200 grams of boiling water (1 cup)

Mix and let cool. Add to the dough and mix for 10 minutes on KitchenAid 2 (low).

Six folds, bulk fermentation; six folds; second fermentation; push down; cut in half; shape two boules; let proof for one hour; score and bake.

The dough was software and sticky, but easy to work with. The proofed boules were very tall and tender, but they were not over proofed and they did not fall in when I scored them. I am becoming a big, big fan of the six folds.

Lot’s of fun. I will update this with more thoughts on how well the bread works as toast and how well it last.


Dough Folding and Focaccia

There are a number of different flatbreads in Italy, representing a number of different styles. Focaccia from Genoa and in many other locations is thicker, as high as 1″-2″, and softer. Schiacciata, found throughout Tuscany is thinner than Genovese focaccia and thicker than a pizza, as is Pizza Bianca found in Rome. In some restaurants and bakeries in Naples and Sorrento, a focaccia is a thin flatbread baked in a pizza oven and lightly topped with perhaps one teaspoon of light tomatoes sauces, salt and oregano. It’s small wonder the word Focaccia has come to mean so many different things to different people.

My favorite Italian flatbread is Tuscan Schiacciata, because it mixes a nice crunch in the crust with a moist and developed crumb—and it is rich with extra virgin olive oil. When we were in Florence, my second daughter and I would stop stop at a neighborhood bakery on the way to school some mornings, and get Schiacciata with olives as an early morning snack. Over the years, I have continued to make Schiacciata at home, both because it is fast and easy to make, and because it is a nice reminder of our time living abroad.

What I want to share today is just how important proper dough folding can be for all bread—even the lowly Focaccia. I found that doing proper folding made a big impact on the quality of my latest flatbread. After bulk fermentation, I folded my dough six time and let it proof a second time. Then I pushed out the air holes, cut my dough in half and made two really nice flatbreads. I gave them an hour to proof in the baking sheet, and then pushed down finger impressions, drizzled the loaves with olive oil and cracked some nice salt on top. It was very interesting to see how nicely the crust and the crumb developed and how much they benefitted from the folding.

My least favorite focaccia is the thicker, softer style, and by giving my dough the time to develop, I was able to make a Schiacciata with a lot more character. Here is the recipe:

1000 g all purpose flour
700 grams of water (70% hydration—wetter than pizza dough)
10 grams of yeast
20 grams of salt

Note that there is no olive oil in the dough.



A Fun New Package for our Wonderful Extra Virgin Olive Oil

We have been importing a wonderful cold-pressed, 100% Tuscan extra virgin olive oil directly from the source — the farm in Bagno a Ripoli, just south of Florence, Tuscany for many years. The farm has been family-run for generations, and they own everything — the land, the trees and a traditional, mechanical stone mill, and they do everything — pruning the trees, harvesting the olives and pressing the olive oil. The extra virgin olive oil is incredible.

Today, we are announcing a fun, new package for that olive oil — a bottle-shaped 750ml canister. It’s really cool. It’s nice enough for you to keep it on the counter, and even put it on your dining table. At times, it seems as though most olive oil producers follow the perfume model, putting their premium oils in ever more expensive bottles. The problem is that much of the expensive of the product ends up in the packaging, not the actual product itself.

By offering our extra virgin both a basic canister that you can decant into your own bottle, and now in a cool (but not over the top) metal “bottle”, we put our money where it matters — in the olive oil!

We feel very lucky to have made this connection, and to be able to offer this truly world-class olive oil through the Forno Bravo Store, at very reasonable prices. It is much less expensive than other ultra premium olive oils; and we think it is much better. The oil is wonderful; full bodied, fruity and flavorful, with a hint of pepper and spice.

The New FB Store

We recently went live with a completely new and updated Forno Bravo Store, that offers substantially improved navigation, better graphics and photos and single page checkout. It looks really nice and it works really well. Plus, web have integrated the FB FastQuote shipping database into the new FB Store, so that the pizza oven and outdoor fireplace shipping and packing costs that you get from the FastQuote system are now exactly matched when you go to the FB Store to order.

The enhanced graphics capability of the new FB Store allow us to show you multiple graphics for our pizza ovens and outdoor fireplaces, so that you can see different views for some products, as well as different types of graphics, such as dimensional drawings and 3D models. We can also display larger graphics with zoom capability. It is going to take us a little time to add all of these images, but the store is getting more capable every day.

One page checkout is really nice — everything is in one place, and it’s easy to use. It’s also easier to register all of your information and sign-in for faster checkout.

The new FB Store was a lot of work, and I think it is a big step forward for the FB community. Enjoy!